Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.
WHEN THE WILDFLOWER CENTER OPENED IN 1995, it was a model of sustainable architecture as well as award-winning design. The Center’s architectural firm, Overland Partners of San Antonio, won praise for the sensitivity paid to the site as they designed the buildings to wrap around elements of nature – water, seed, earth and sky.
We literally attached large price tags to existing trees, warning contractors that any damaged trees would be costly to them. We saved the rocks unearthed in digging foundations and used them elsewhere on the grounds. We installed a rainwater collection system that at the time was one of the largest in the nation. And, of course, we designed native plant gardens using organic materials and pest controls. But amazing progress in sustainable design and operations has been made in the past decade. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council provides a roadmap for constructing and operating buildings that minimize environmental harm, taking advantage of new technologies, materials and practices.
Our goal is to raise the bar for sustainability at the Wildflower Center by achieving LEED certification. For the past year, we have been learning all we can about LEED standards for existing buildings. We have organized training for staff in green building standards and visited LEED-certified buildings, such as the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Redbud Center, built for energy and water efficiency. We have learned that we have work to do to meet the new expectations.
The Wildflower Center already excels in certain areas important for certification. We are national leaders in sustainable landscaping practices – in fact, we are writing the book on sustainable landscaping in partnership with the American Society of Landscape Architects and the United States Botanic Garden. Through our partnership with them in the Sustainable Sites Initiative, our second report has been published, available at www.sustainablesites.org, and the U.S. Green Building Council anticipates incorporating these guidelines and performance benchmarks into future iterations of LEED. Even before we started that effort, our native plants, organic approach and sensitive site design made us largely compliant with the LEED sustainable sites requirements.
Likewise, water conservation is fundamental to our mission of promoting regionally native plants. Our rainwater harvesting system captures 10,200 gallons for every inch of rain, particularly helpful during the extreme drought plaguing Central Texas. Since native plants are adapted to climate, they are not as thirsty as exotic plant varieties. We should get LEED credit for stormwater management. We are improving our operations, increasing recycling, materials reuse and composting. We are already careful to purchase environmentally friendly materials. Wildflower magazine, for example, is printed on paper that includes post-consumer recycled content and is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. This means that the portion of our paper that is not recycled comes from forests that are well managed according to strict environmental, social and economic standards established by the FSC. Our printer, Times Printing Co., has been certified for meeting FSC requirements.
However, there are several requirements for LEED-Existing Building certification that will require additional work, partly because of the rapid advances in these areas since our buildings were constructed. Most importantly, we need to reduce our energy consumption and ideally purchase part of our electricity from renewable sources. We would like to reduce the amount of potable water we use in our buildings by recycling gray water for irrigation and perhaps capturing stormwater from our parking lots for reuse. These infrastructure improvements will likely require costly retrofitting.
Achieving LEED certification will be a complex, time-consuming effort and require some upfront expenses that we might not otherwise have to take on. In these uncertain economic times, this is a brave undertaking, but our Advisory Council and our staff are fully committed to “walking the talk” of sustainability at the Wildflower Center.